This story first appeared in the Sept. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Bryan Cranston, the 59-year-old TV veteran who finished his acclaimed run as Walter White in 2013, talks to THR about life after Breaking Bad, his upcoming role as LBJ in HBO’s All the Way, and whether, after playing blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in the Toronto-debuting Trumbo, he’d ever name names.
You’ve been out of Breaking Bad for a while now. How do you make your career decisions these days?
I tell my agency [UTA], “Do the best you can.” They say, “We want to tell you about the deal.” I say, “Are you happy?” “I think we could get a little more.” “All right, try.” I don’t want to appear smug, but I don’t need a job. I’ve been really poor, foreclose-on-your-house poor. And I’ve been rich. Rich is better. But I’m just now starting to get used to the hour of fame. I haven’t been able to let the dust settle yet.
Do you like your “hour of fame”?
Being [famous] is almost like being a pregnant woman. People think they can just put their hand on your belly and tell you, “Oh, you’re going to have a boy!” It’s like having a complete stranger fondling you. And they have this sensibility where they feel comfortable coming up to you and saying, “You know that thing you did? I didn’t like that movie.”
Oh yeah, it happens all the time. They’re not in the storytelling world, but they hear buzzwords. So they’ll go, “I didn’t like your character’s arc.” But I’m open to all of it. The only failure in art is when you move someone to no emotion whatsoever. I’d rather have people fiercely angry with me so long as they’re moved to some emotion. Even if the emotion was off-target — even if I was trying to move the audience one place and they go another. You missed, but at least they felt something.
You dedicated your Emmy last year to “all the sneaky Petes out there,” explaining that it was the nickname your family gave you in your youth. And now your production company is making a show for Amazon called Sneaky Pete. How’d that happen?
The next day after the Emmys, I get a call from Zack Van Amburg, the co-president of Sony TV, and he says, “Hey, I think you’ve got something there.” I said, “Really? What would that be?” He goes, “I have no idea.” Eventually, I pitched out a Sneaky Pete concept. I said, “What if it’s Breaking Bad in reverse? What if it’s about a bad guy who finds a reason to become good?” I called [CBS’] Nina Tassler. She bought it on the phone.
But then CBS passed on the pilot.
It’s hard when you create a show for broadcast and it isn’t exactly what they thought they wanted. But of course, I disagree. I should disagree, that’s my role [as a producer]. And now, you know, we have the second chance to live, and I think it’s going to be even better for us.
Your Moon Shot Entertainment has 14 projects in various stages of development. What do you hope to accomplish?
What Tom Hanks was able to do with Playtone is where I aspire to be. He does so many different things — From the Earth to the Moon, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
You’re about to begin playing President Lyndon Johnson in HBO’s version of All the Way. You played the role in the stage play. Do you have a thing for the 37th president?
Oh my God, such a bigger-than-life character. Tremendous ambition, frailty, a giant of a man and huge stakes — and then he declined with the failures of Vietnam. I think All the Way introduces another generation and reminds the generation that was alive then just how deep his accomplishments were.
What if you’d been called in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, like Dalton Trumbo. Would you have ratted on your friends?
Until you’re actually in that situation, it’s difficult to say how you would react. All I hope is that I would react nobly and fight for what is right. At the time, Trumbo was perfect for that. He was the right person at the right time. And he took the mantle because it happened to him.